Mary Ann O’Roark was decorating for Christmas, rummaging through packing materials, unable to find the baby Jesus that belonged to the Nativity set from [Israel] given to her by her parents. She was having a hard time getting into the Christmas mood and had hoped that decorating would lift her spirits. Now she couldn’t find Jesus. Finally, she gave up in despair and decided to sit out Christmas – she wasn’t in the mood and, after all, Jesus was missing.
The next morning, walking to work, Mary Ann again noticed the homeless woman with a grimy green hat who had become a regular on her New York City block. This woman often slumped in a doorway or sprawled on the steps of the stone church across the street. Homeless people usually didn’t bother Mary Ann, but the woman in the grimy green hat “was hard to take, cursing passersby and shouting at cars. That day she lurched in front of [Mary Ann], thrusting out a swollen hand, ‘Got any money?’ she rasped.”
With a quick and definitive “No,” Mary Ann crossed the street to avoid further contact and found herself directly in front of the stone church. In the concrete courtyard adjacent to church’s front door was the beautiful manger scene that the church set out every year. Shepherds, wise men, animals, the holy family – all were there – and in the manger a plump, plaster baby Jesus with a golden halo, wrapped in swaddling cloths. For a second, Mary Ann almost felt the old spark of Christmas. Then she heard the woman in the grimy green hat cursing and the moment was gone.
Over the following days, Mary Ann O’Roark found herself drawn repeatedly to the church’s manger scene, perhaps to compensate for her own lack of Christmas spirit, perhaps hoping to rekindle something in herself. Then a few days before Christmas, as she hurried past the manger scene on her way home in the sleet and rain, Mary Ann glanced at the manger scene and was shocked to discover that the manger was empty. An indentation in the straw indicated where the baby had lain – but no Jesus. Who had stolen Jesus?
Out of the corner of her eye, Mary Ann noticed the woman with grimy green hat huddled against the side of a parking garage, protectively cradling a blanket wrapped bundle in her arms. As the woman rocked the bundle back and forth, a corner of the blanket slipped away, revealing the baby Jesus – safe and dry, out of the sleet. Noticing that the blanket had slipped, the woman tenderly kissed the plaster Jesus, tucked the blanket back in place, and held the baby even more securely in her arms.
Jesus was not missing. Mary Ann had simply not known where to look for him.
In the frenzy of Christmas, pause; take some deep, relaxing breaths; and look for Jesus. You may find Jesus in an imperfect, incomplete House of God (the gathered people of God). You may find Jesus in the proclamation of good news, the telling and retelling of the wondrous Christmas story which still has an amazing capacity to touch and sometimes to inspire us (think of your favorite Christmas movie or novel). And you may find Jesus cradled in the arms of a homeless person, or the embrace of family, or in giving to people in our lives and to the least, most vulnerable in our midst. Communally and individually, may we, following the example of Jesus’ mother Mary, and Mary Ann O’Roark, join in responding to God by saying, “Let it be with me according to your word."